Europe, Japan send spacecraft on 7-year journey to Mercury

Europe, Japan send spacecraft on 7-year journey to Mercury”

The European Space Agency's (ESA) first mission to Mercury blasts off with a trio of craft heading to the planet closest to the Sun.

The spacecraft is slated to launch October 19 at 9:45 p.m. ET from the French Guiana on the European workhorse rocket Ariane 5.

And while it has one of the world's most powerful launch vehicles in the Atlas V rocket, it will still require a seven-year journey to enter orbit around Mercury rather than the Sun.

One of the mission's greatest challenges will be the sun's enormous gravity, which makes it hard to place a spacecraft into a stable orbit around Mercury. This route will take it on flybys of Earth, Venus twice, and Mercury six times before dropping into Mercury's orbit.

The BepiColombo mission is being carried out jointly by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

"BepiColombo is one of the most complex interplanetary missions we have ever flown", says Andrea Accomazzo, ESA Flight Director for BepiColombo.

BepiColombo comprises of two orbiters: one European and the other Japanese, which will circle the planet while mapping and probing its surface and enveloping magnetic field.

Those probes will roam Mercury for a year before sending their findings back to Earth.

After arriving at Mercury, the modules will separate and from their respective orbits the science orbiters will make complementary measurements of Mercury's interior, surface, exosphere and magnetosphere, following up on numerous open questions raised by NASA's Messenger mission. Mercury's almost non-existent atmosphere also means that the planet itself will be giving off extremely hot temperatures, pinning the obiters in a "heat sandwich" for most of their lifespan.

A seven-year, eight-million-kilometer voyage expected to shed light on the mysteries of Mercury, the solar system's least-understood planet, is almost ready for takeoff. The mission also hopes to study the solar wind, Mercury's inner structure, and how Mercury interacts with the area around the sun.

It is possible to directly reach Mercury in a matter of months, but the speed picked up by a spacecraft falling into the Sun's deep gravity would make it very hard to stop at the planet, the BBC report said. ESA, JAXA and Airbus worked together to set the scientific objectives of the mission, a basis that was then used to develop the BepiColombo research satellite. "To understand how Earth was formed, we need to understand how all rocky planets formed". What can the planet closest to the Sun tell us about how our solar system came into being?

The European Space Agency (ESA) first proposed a mission to explore Mercury in 1993.

For a chance to see the BepiColombo mission launch live, watch the livestream here, in the embedded video player below. It was he who proposed the NASA trajectory that allowed Mariner 10 to fly by the planet.

Until 1985, an engineer figured out the path that a spacecraft should take to reach Mercury. NASA's Mariner 10 made three brief fly-bys in the 1970s, and the U.S. space agency's Messenger orbiter circled the planet between March 2011 and April 2015, when it ran out of fuel and crashed onto Mercury's surface.

BepiColombo is made up of two different spacecraft with two very different jobs.

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